There was disquiet at the International Conference Centre (ICC), Abuja, venue of the Inauguration Lecture on Saturday, following the conspicuous absence of the President-elect, Bola Tinubu from the event, which was organised in his honour.
However, Tinubu was represented by the Vice President-elect, Senator Kashim Shettima, who did not say anything about his whereabouts, but only proceeded to read his speech.
In the speech read on his behalf, the President-elect declared that Nigeria stands at the precipice of a new era, where the ideals of democracy would guide her path towards sustainable development.
At the event, President Muhammadu Buhari also declared that Nigerians could overcome their differences and forge a common cause for progress.
Former President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya has appealed to the incoming President of Nigeria, Tinubu to unite the country irrespective of the ethnic, political, and religious cleavages that may exist.
The Vice President-elect, Shettima also insisted that Tinubu cannot Islamise Nigeria.
At the Inauguration Lecture organised by the Presidential Transition Council (PTC), with the keynote address delivered by Kenyatta at the International Conference Centre (ICC) in Abuja, Tinubu was absent and was represented by the Vice President-elect, Shettima.
In a statement issued by the Office of the President-elect and signed by Tunde Rahman, the incoming president, through the Vice President-elect, Shettima, highlighted the indispensable role of democracy as the cornerstone for the nation’s progress and prosperity.
The president-elect also called on Nigerians to stand together with his incoming administration to birth a better country, while also restating his commitment to the ideals of democracy as the best form of government.
He said: “Distinguished guests, democracy is more than a system of governance; it is the very lifeblood that empowers a nation to flourish and thrive.
“We stand at the precipice of a new era, where the ideals of democracy will guide our path towards sustainable development,” he explained.
Tinubu, while embracing his African identity, further stated that he recognised the collective efforts of Nigerians and Africans in shaping their democratic political cultures and institutions, tailored to the unique conditions and challenges faced by their societies.
He articulated the essence of democracy, emphasising that it transcends being a mere form of government.
Tinubu noted: “Democracy, my fellow countrymen, is not only a political system; it is a way of life. It embodies a distinctive code of thought and conduct, demanding the utmost integrity and self-improvement from leaders.”
While explaining the paradoxical nature of democracy, the president-elect noted that while it guarantees freedom, its survival hinges on responsible and measured use of that freedom.
He added that democracy, as an ever-evolving concept, empowers the majority to express their will while safeguarding the fundamental interests of the minority.
“Our democracy is not an abstract ideal; it is a practical vessel that will propel our nation to new heights in every facet of our collective existence,” Tinubu added.
Drawing insights from Nigeria’s national experience, he acknowledged the merits of democracy even in its imperfect manifestations, stressing that it surpasses the most perfect dictatorship in terms of justice, humanity, and productivity.
Tinubu also mentioned the importance of fostering open forums for discussion and debate, where the best ideas and policies could enter the national discourse and capture the imagination of the people.
He pledged to utilise democratic institutions not only to safeguard political and civil rights, but also to drive comprehensive economic reforms that engender broad-based prosperity, create employment opportunities, and unlock the nation’s untapped potential.
“Today, I stand before you, ready to dedicate my entire being to the service of our great nation and the African continent,” Tinubu noted.
Speaking in his capacity, Shettima also said a lot of lies were being traded as truth, insisting that his principal, Tinubu has no Islamisation agenda.
“Asiwaju Tinubu is a Muslim who is married to a Christian, not only a Christian but a Pastor of Redeemed Christian Church of God. Someone who has not Islamised his family people are believing he is going to Islamise the nation.
“I stand here in profound conviction that in unity we are going to move a mountain. I implore all Nigerians to give us the benefit of the doubt. In this structure, I am confident in the Tinubu project. He believes in the Nigerian project in spite of the division that permeated our politics in the last 2023 presidential election,” Shettima said.
We Can Overcome Our Differences and Forge a Common Cause, Says Buhari
On his part, President Buhari stated that Nigerians could overcome their differences and forge a common cause toward progress.
“We have learnt that democracy is not just a system of governance. It is a way of life. True democracy is when the voice of the people is heard. Our nation’s progress rests on inclusivity, unity and not leaving any citizen behind, and ensuring every citizen enjoys the dividends of good governance. We must heed the lessons of this lecture and translate them into action. We must fight against corruption in all its forms. We must remain united. Our diversity is our strength.
“We can overcome our differences and forge a common cause towards progress,” Buhari explained.
Buhari noted that the inauguration lecture took participants on a journey of introspection on the imperatives of democratic governance and nation-building, noting that the various challenges that confront the socio-political fabrics of Nigeria were highlighted.
Kenyatta Urges Tinubu to Unite Nigeria
In his address, the keynote speaker and former Kenyan President, Kenyatta appealed to Tinubu to unite the country.
Speaking on the theme: ‘Deepening Democracy for Integration and Development’, Kenyatta summed up the leadership crisis in Africa as negative ethnicism, religious intolerance, and economic greed.
Kenyatta noted that while elections may divide the people, leadership must bring them together.
He encouraged Tinubu to surround himself with voices that challenge his own and reach out to those who may feel aggrieved to build a stronger nation together.
In closing his presentation, Kenyatta said: “The contest is now over and the hard work of building a prosperous and unified Nigeria now begins.
“I encourage you to surround yourself with the voices of those who will counterbalance the hardliners that feel entitled to a piece of your office, you will lose nothing and gain everything by reaching out across the political, ethnic, and religious lines.”
He added: “To those who may feel aggrieved by your victory in one way or another, please allow them to exhale and be part of your vision for a greater Nigeria.
“It is my hope and my prayer that the lessons from across the continent will give you the resolve to walk the difficult path of overcoming those three enemies.
“I started by mentioning the three enemies of nationhood: Negative ethnicity, religious discrimination, and corruption. As your fellow African, I look forward to a Nigeria that emerges from this transition, ready to flex and fight for its rightful place on the global stage with both hands at the ready,” Kenyatta said.
Also the President, African Development Bank, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, who spoke on the topic, “Strengthening the Nigerian Economy in the Tinubu Years,” urged the president-elect to drastically improve the economy and spark a new wave of prosperity.
Adesina expressed the hope that Tinubu will heal and unite a fractious nation, rise above party lines and forge a compelling force to move the nation forward, with inclusiveness, fairness, equity, and justice.
He also urged him to drastically improve the economy by removing the inefficient fuel subsidies.
“Nigeria’s fuel subsidies benefit the rich, not the poor, fuelling their and government’s endless fleets of cars at the expense of the poor. Estimates show that the poorest 40 per cent of the population consume just three per cent of petrol. Fuel subsidies are killing the Nigerian economy, costing Nigeria $10 billion alone in 2022,” Adesina said.
He also called for reduction cost of doing business, which he noted is too high for any meaningful development to take place.
Adesina expressed hope that Tinubu will heal and unite a fractious nation.
On his part, the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto Rev. Matthew Hassan Kukah, noted that religion is not the problem of Nigeria as erroneously projected by the media and the political elite who assumed that there is a conflict between politics and religion.
“In all countries, no business, no family, no organisation, has a future if you don’t figure how to manage diversity. Religion has been turned into a weapon and it is a weapon of choice for politics and politician. I am a Nigerian and I can work with anybody. We must get to that point in which we have enough trust in ourselves,” Kukah said.
The lecture had in attendance, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha; the Sultan of Sokoto, Mohammed Sa’ad Abubakar III; the Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Ogunwusi; and Deputy Secretary-General of United Nations, Amina Muhammed, among others.
Olawale Ajimotokan and Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja